They blushed when I asked for their names, their voices barely above a whisper. Then they’d quickly add another name, louder, because they’d learned that in this country, we ask you to get an “American name” before we’ll learn to pronounce the one your mother gave you.
We spent weeks playing “duck, duck, goose” and drawing hearts and stars with thick sidewalk chalk. We used hand motions to remember Bible verses, because if you got called to the front and could remember John 3:16, you’d win a bag of Doritos.
We flicked ants off our legs and talked about where we lived, where we used to live, what grade we were in. Sometimes we talked about Jesus – how he fed a lot of people, how he healed a man who was blind, how he calmed a storm by telling it to stop. We sang some songs, but mostly we did the hand motions, because we didn’t know all the words. One day they gave us Korean candy, and the Korean girls proudly read every word from the back of the packages to the rest of us.
Some days there were fights, some days the littlest ones cried when the person they picked to be the “goose” caught them and they had to go sit in the pot and be “made into soup.” Some days the songs were easy enough to learn and I’ve never been more certain that heaven heard us.
Today was our last day together, and “small group discussion time” (which was never small, nor by any real standard a “group” or a “discussion”) was getting harder.
So all of the little girls at “Vacation Bible School” tonight crammed into one of those schoolyard picnic tables with legs chained to the concrete, and they colored. The pages were all slightly different, but they all had Jesus on them – Jesus feeding people, Jesus healing a blind man, Jesus calming a storm by telling it to stop. And all of these little girls – all immigrants or refugees, none of them white – they all colored their Jesuses with white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes.
Every single one of them gave Jesus blue eyes.
I wish I could bottle up the moment I explained to them that Jesus isn’t white. I wish I could bottle it up and keep it in my back pocket, ready to give a taste to anyone who says white supremacy isn’t real.
I wish I could give a taste to all my supposedly well-meaning Christian friends who turn a blind eye to the violence and hatred around them. I wish I could give a taste to the politicians who tweet out their “thoughts and prayers” when the polling tells them the situation’s gotten bad enough that the benefits outweigh the costs. I wish I could give a taste to every kind-hearted pastor, leader, or CEO who condemns “racism” but doesn’t think its evil system has crept its way into our businesses, our communities, our hearts and our lives.
I wish I could show you the disbelief on their faces. They’d been learning about this guy for six weeks, and they’d likely known about Him for even longer. Everyone who talked about Him was white, all the pictures of Him were white, and He was God – why wouldn’t He be white?
I wish I could introduce everyone who talks about “two sides” of the issue of white supremacy or our “post-racial” America or claims that racism was solved when Obama became president to the little girls who could barely believe that the guy who calmed the storm by telling it to stop looked more like them than me.
Instead, you’ll have to just believe me. And I hope you’ll weep with me. And then I hope you’ll wipe your face of tears and begin searching your heart, the way I’m desperately trying to, for the white supremacy that still reigns. And then I hope you’ll being searching the institutions and communities you inhabit for the same thing.
When we finished coloring, we talked about why some people like to pretend that Jesus was white. We talked about how wrong it is for people to ignore the truth and believe things that make them feel good about themselves.